In all my 34 years of sports writing, this saga today takes the cake. It takes a lot to wrap your hands around it. My brain hurts from the idiocy.
But here goes. John Finke has been the head boys’ basketball coach at West Milford High School for the last 28 years. He’s turned a totally moribund and listless program into a perennial pain in the rectum for opponents, especially in Passaic County. His teams are annually competitive and win big game after big game. He’s won 355 such games over the last 28 basketball seasons and made a very cold gym a lively and exciting place to be every winter, especially with three runs to the NJSIAA North 1, Group III sectional final game.
One would figure that Finke would be able to hold his position for life. After all, he graduated from the place in 1982 and came back home to coach his alma mater, taking over a position that no one really wanted.
When it comes time to rehiring coaches, there’s almost an unwritten rule, especially with long-time coaches, that it’s a rubber stamp on the paperwork and everything gets pushed along pretty neatly.
However, for some reason this year, when it came to reappointing Finke, the brilliance that sits on the West Milford Board of Education decided to vote on Finke being rehired.
So on May 23, the Board of Education, a nine-member group, decided to vote on whether Coach Finke should be retained. Finke would need five votes from the Board to be rehired. At the meeting that night, two members already left prior to the voting, which left seven remaining.
So of the seven people left, four voted yes, two (Board president James Foody and member Glenn Huber) voted no and one (Debbie O’Brien) for some unknown reason abstained.
Not getting the necessary five votes to be retained, Finke is out. He’s out after 28 years, out after 355 wins, out without fanfare or anything. Just gone.
In fact, the backstabbing athletic director Joe Trenticosta, has already recommended that the Board hire Patrick McCarney, a long-time friend of Trenticosta, as Finke’s replacement.
Finke didn’t think he was in jeopardy of losing his job and losing the chance to coach son Andrew, a First Team All-Passaic County selection last March, for his senior season. So he didn’t attend the May 23 meeting. For all intents and purposes, he was in.
“But at 11:05 p.m. I got the phone call that I was voted out,” Finke said. “I couldn’t sleep a wink. I went to work the next day.”
Needless to say, Finke is shocked.
“It’s hard to believe that after 28 years, and all the things that have happened throughout that time, all the accomplishments and all the different players coming through the program, that two ‘no votes’ could end my career,” Finke said.
Needless to say, Finke’s supporters are up in arms. Parents, former players, current players, former coaches, opposing coaches have flooded Finke with calls, e-mails, texts and what have you.
“I’m not defeated,” said Finke. “After 28 years, I plan on fighting this.”
The time for the WTFs are over. Believe me, I’ve said the same thing about 1,000 times since May 23. WTF is the Board of Education thinking? If there weren’t nine people in the room, then why not revote when nine are indeed present? Or in that respect, have them mail in a secret ballot so this way we won’t have any idea who voted out a coaching legend. WTF West Milford? WTF?
Finke doesn’t know how to react now.
“For 28 years to go by, and my son will be a senior next year, I would have liked to go out with some dignity and respect and on my own terms,” Finke said. “I would like to go out at my final awards dinner and say ‘Goodbye and thank you’ to all the people who helped me throughout my career, my family. I don’t get to do that now. I don’t get that chance to go out the right way, the way that a 28-year veteran coach should be able to go out.”
Damn skippy. Finke deserved the right to go out on his own terms. He’s done nothing wrong, except guiding the Highlanders to a losing season last year. But as everyone knows, unless you were St. Anthony or you are currently the Patrick School, high school basketball in New Jersey is cyclical. You win for a couple years, then you pay the fiddler, then you get another chance to bounce back.
“We had everyone back,” Finke said. “We were going to be very good.”
“It’s like they all stabbed me,” said Finke, who also coaches the golf team. “It’s not a physical pain. But they have ripped the passion I had for coaching being taken away from me. There’s no reason.”
Well, there’s now reason to unite as one to support Finke, one last chance for the coaching giant to save his job. The Board of Education will convene Tuesday night at the Westbrook School at 7:30 p.m. Anyone who is anyone should take the time to be there. Coach Finke deserves better. If the Board of Education wanted him out, then there would have been better ways.
“John, you suck, you’re history,” could be one, but that would be lying.
“John, you’re awful, we’ve tried with you and you’re done,” could have been another.
But for a guy to find out the way he found out_ via a text from a friend _ well, that’s just wrong.
It was a special B of E session with not all members present. That really doesn’t form a forum. And if four voted for him and two voted against him, that means the end? Because of James Foody and Glenn Huber? They are the two who cast the votes against Finke. Chances are neither saw the Highlanders play.
Because if you saw them play like I did, you would be proud of the way they held their own against the big boys. They played Teaneck a few years ago in the state playoffs and completely outmanned. And Finke had the team playing hard to the bigger end. West Milford lost by about four points, but it was part of the moral victory that made Finke the great coach that he is.
West Milford should do the right thing and recast a vote at Tuesday night's meeting. It would be the only fair thing for Finke. Actually, the fair thing would be to let him go out on his own terms in a year or two. Not this way. Not without getting the chance to build on last year's 9-18 record. Not to have someone else coach his son for his senior year.
Let's hope they get things right in West Milford. John Finke deserves better.
If anyone has driven in my beloved home town of Jersey City recently, you'll notice one glaring problem.
Ugh, driving through Jersey City's streets right now is like a mouse trying to get through a maze to get a piece of cheese. This street is blocked. No, it's that one. No, it's one more. It's downright frustrating.
Now, I know some of it is because of the massive amount of construction going on. But in the Jersey City Heights? Have you tried to simply sit on Baldwin Avenue near Pershing Field. You don't even need the time of day. You're sitting in traffic.
The same thing is going on at Garfield Avenue in the Greenville section. Since when so many cars want to drive through Greenville along Garfield. Oh, Lord, times have changed.
So has the traffic. It's annoying.
Some politician should run on the No Traffic ticket for Mayor Steve Fulop's job in November. Promise that all the road construction would be done and the hideous traffic that is on Route 440 every single day is fixed. I know of one way to fix the Route 440 dilemma. How about stagger the traffic lights to make them all green at the same time and all red at the same time. That doesn't take a genius.
You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com or www.theobserver.com